Short Biographies

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
by Fr. Andre Lemieux

No Catholic author in Catholic American history has had a more eventful life than Fulton John Sheen (1895-1979).  Born in El Paso, Illinois, Sheen was director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the United States; Bishop of Rochester, New York; a popular radio and television personality; and a voluminous writer.  Fulton Sheen's bibliography reads like a library catalogue.  Shortly after his death, his autobiography and his last work,Treasure in Clay, was published: "Carlyle was wrong," he begins, "in saying that there is no life of a man faithfully recorded.  Mine was! The ink used was blood, the parchment was skin, the pen was a spear.  Over eighty chapters make up the book, each for a year of my life."  Then he goes on:That autobiography is the crucifix,  the inside story of my life, not in the way it walks the stage of time, but how it was recorded, taped and written in the Book of Life.  It is not the autobiography that I tell you but the autobiography I read to myself.  In the crown of thorns, I see my pride, my grasping for earthly toys in the pierced Hands, my flight from shepherding care in the pierced Feet, my wasted love in the wounded Heart, and my prurient desires in the flesh hanging from Him like purple rags.  Almost every time I turn a page of that book, my heart weeps at what eros  has done to agape, what the 'I 'has done to the 'Thou',  what the professed friend has done to the Beloved."

The more familiar a reader becomes with Sheen's writings, the more they reveal the author behind the page.  It is an author who, with all his admitted human failings, had a great intellect that he placed at the disposal of Providence and who allowed God to wear him out in the service of souls.  "St. Paul  compares the apostles to clay pots  that hold a treasure; clay has to be moulded, and that is done primarily in the family, which is more sacred than the state. On my mother's side both my grandparents came from Croghan, a little village in County Roscommon, Ireland, near the town of Boyle. My father's father (whom I never knew because he died when I was quite small) was born in Ireland also. When I was enrolled in the parochial school my grandfather Fulton was asked my name and he answered,' It's Fulton'. Though I had been baptized Peter in St.Mary's Church in El Paso, Illinois, I now was called Fulton...Fulton Sheen, Irish words for the apparent contradiction and the tensions  of War and Peace embraced within the Cross and Christianity.

"...The moulding of the clay was done by great sacrifices on the part of my father and my mother, who would deny themselves every personal comfort and luxury in order that their sons might be well clothed and well cared for. Our family life was simple and the atmosphere of our home Christian. Grace was said before and after every meal, the Rosary was said every evening, the priests of the cathedral visited the home once every week, and visits of old-country cousins were very frequent...The tenant farmer would accept the Sheen boys as hired hands on weekends and during the summer months. A jolly neighbour by the name of Billy Ryan said to my father, "Newt, that oldest boy of yours, Fulton, will never be worth a damn. He's always got his nose in a book.' My brothers rather enjoyed farm work; I suffered it. When I see thousands of young men running around in dungarees (blue jeans) today, I remember how then it was about as low as you could get! As for singing - they say it is every man's birthright but it certainly never was mine. I didn't sound good even in a shower. I can never remember a time in my life when I did not want to be a priest. Doing farm work or other chores, I would say the Rosary, begging for a vocation. Being an altar boy at the cathedral fed the fires of vocation. Always associated with that sense of the gift of a treasure was the frailty of the earthenware pot which was to house it - one's personal unworthiness."

From his first book, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy  (1925), a commentary of the Prima Pars of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica , to the one-volume edition of Life Is Worth Living (1978) on Aquinas' treatment of the moral virtues, Sheen averaged more than one book a year.  It is noteworthy that much of his published writing had originally been lectures or conference papers.  One result is that his books are like conversations with the reader, but with one important difference; his language is always clear, even crystal clear.  And his ideas are never abstract in a pedantic sense but are constantly illustrated with stories from real life and explained in concrete terms that remind one of Christ's own teaching by telling parables. Once, having completed post-graduate work at Louvain University in Belgium, he paid a visit to Cardinal Mercier who was much involved in restoring the works of St. Thomas Aquinas to the Catholic curriculum. "Your Eminence', he asked,' you were always a brilliant teacher; would you kindly give me some suggestions about teaching?" "I will - always keep current;  know what the modern world is thinking about; read its poetry, its history, its literature; observe its architecture and its art; hear its music and its theatre; and then  plunge deeply into St. Thomas and the wisdom of the ancients and you will be able to refute its errors."  So we have the following works to thank Sheen for:

-God and Intelligence, 1925

-Religion without God, 1928

-The Life of All Living, 1929, 1979

-The Divine Romance, 1930

-Old Errors and New Labels, 1931

-Moods and  Truths, 1932

-Way of the Cross,1932 

-Seven Last Words, 1933

-Hymn of the Conquered, 1933 

-The Eternal Galilean, 1934

-Philosophy of Science, 1934

-The Mystical Body of Christ, 1935

-Calvary and the Mass, 1936 

-The Moral Universe, 1936

-The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937

-The Cross and the Crisis, 1938

-Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, 1938


The Rainbow of Sorrow, 1938

Victory over Vice, 1939   

Whence Come Wars, 1940

The Seven Virtues, 1940

For God and Country, '41

God and War and Peace, 1942

The Armory of God, 1943

Love One Another, 1944

Seven Words of Jesus and Mary, 1945 

Preface to Religion,'46

Jesus, Son of Mary,'47

Communism 1948

Peace of Soul 1949

Lift Up Your Heart,'50

Three to Get Married,1951

The World's First Love, 1952

Life of Christ 1954...etc!

One of the less-familiar aspects of Fulton Sheen's writing career is the zeal that motivated everything he wrote, fueled by the practise he adopted at seminary and never gave up of a daily continuous Hour of Prayer before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  His driving purpose was not to inform or inspire, except as a means to an end.  That end was to make Christ better known and loved by the millions who heard him speak or read his books."I have pushed out the classroom walls, and now I can embrace the whole world", was his typical remark when he stepped off the faculty as professor of Catholic University of America to take on the duties the Church asked him to assume as director for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the United States, and collector for the Missions.

The closing chapter of his autobiography is a perfect synthesis of how he exercised his apostolic zeal up to the last hours of his life.  Fellow patients at the hospital were taught about Christ's mercy to sinners and stray sheep were persuaded to return to the fold, and with unbelievers he shared the treasures of his own deep Catholic faith.

But Sheen made one thing especially clear in the several million words of print that he published: there is no true peace on earth, and no promise of happiness in the life to come except at the price of the Cross.  Paganism, he would say, is Christianity without the Cross.  It is this simple truth that readers of Fulton Sheen will learn, above all, from his voluminous writings.

There remain certain enigmas concerning the latter-day  Fulton Sheen which require examination. Worldliness and secularism had crept into his  own department, as many a foreign missionary could attest who would go there for funds, to be met by the sight of an army of mini-skirted young female typist secretaries employed by the Congregation for the Missions. Amazing slurs and disrespect for the venerated memory of the war-horse and old watch-dog of Orthodoxy, Cardinal Ottaviani, particularly in an odious display of contempt for this prelate and Prince of the Church during a special intervention made by him on behalf of the Faith during the Vatican II Council. There is also the curious recommendation of a heretical writer to use during the daily Holy Hour, made to a group of American bishops on retreat. William Barclay, for whatever his sincere opinions, was a Presbyterian minister who disbelieved in the Virgin Birth and the physical Resurrection of Our Lord - one does wonder how his Daily Living Guide commentaries on Sacred Scripture should be prefered over those of Catholic saints and traditional scholars. And, incredibly for one who had written so learnedly and movingly on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the apparent acceptation without demur or protest of the New Mass and the revolution accompanying it , which "departs in its overall inspiration as well as in detail" -  to use the words of the Brief Critical Examination of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci -"from the Catholic doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass as formulated by the Council of Trent".

Clearly, whatever he may have also been silenced or brainwashed over, and he does admit to being sworn to secrecy (page 234 of his autobiography), Sheen did not make any practical connection between the communistic infiltration within American society which he laboured so hard against and describes in the earlier part of his autobiography (pages 81 to 90), and the clear case of infiltration , communist and masonic, within the Church and particularly within the Council, as documented by Father R.Wiltgens S.V.D. in his the Rhine Flows into the Tiber, and in Pope John's Council, volume 2 of Liturgical Revolution by the biographer of Archbishop Lefebvre, Mr.M. Davies. His making over of a parish church for treatment of drug addicts was attempted without any consultation of the parishioners concerned, and general dissatisfaction with Sheen as Bishop of Rochester, New York, led to his retirement and resignation. He does write in his last years, however, "I am certain that it was God Who made certain people throw stones at me, but I am just as certain that I have thrown stones at other people, and for those stonings I beg His mercy and pardon."  Of his devotion to the Mother of God there never was any doubt. His earlier book on Our Lady, The World's First Love, must be one of the finest pieces written on the Blessed Virgin this century.

Fittingly, the final invocation of the funeral oration for Fulton Sheen in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York on December 13, 1979 delivered by Archbishop Edward O"Meara, after a life spent as editor of two magazines, broadcaster of "The Catholic Hour" over nation wide television and radio, columnist and conferencier, author many times over, director,pastor, and friend to millions  went as follows:"...Dear Archbishop Sheen, we are all the better because you were in our midst and were our friend. We trust you to the care of your "Lovely Lady dressed in Blue." We pray that Jesus has already said:"I've heard My Mother speak of you".

Bye now, Fulton Sheen, and God Love You Forever!"  

Specially recommended:

Calvary and the Mass

Life of Christ

Three to Get Married

The World's First Love


Excerpts from Archbishop Sheen's  Autobiography "Treasure in Clay".

"The role the Mother of Christ plays in this drama of the incompleteness of man is that she is the ideal Woman.  As she was loved in the Eternal Mind before she was ever born in time, the celibate is bidden to love an ideal before he loves in fact.  How often the young meet hundreds of friends until one day there comes the certitude:  "Here is the one I have been looking for," or "She satisfies my ideal."  Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves; what appears to be "love at first sight' if often the fulfilment of a desire and the realization of a dream.  Life becomes satisfying the moment the dream is seen walking and the person appears as the incarnation of the one that is loved.  Whether that always is true of man, it is certainly true that God loves an ideal before He loves in fact.

For years in sermons and often in lectures I quoted a poem about this Ideal Lady who became so real to me.  The poem is about a child's thoughts concerning Her.  Since we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven only by reversing age and becoming like a child, I fittingly close this chapter about "The Woman I Love" with child-talk."


                Lovely Lady dressed in blue teach me how to pray

God was just your little Boy tell me what to say!

                Did you lift Him up, sometimes gently on your knee?

Did you sing to Him the way mother does to me?

                Do you really think He cares if I tell him things -

Little things that happen? and do Angel's Wings

make a noise? Can He hear me if I speak low? Does He understand me now?

                Lovely Lady dressed in blue teach me how to pray

God was just your little Boy and, you know the way!

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